You know when there is an expectation that Parliamentary by-elections could produce a result that makes headlines and brings momentum to the winning party. It was so in Tamworth back in 1996 when the South-East Staffordshire contest delivered a huge swing to Labour. It was so in Crewe and Nantwich in 2008 as the Tories triumphed. But it was not so last night.
Labour was defending the seat won at the 2010 General Election by Alan Keen, who had lost his battle with cancer. But there was none of the media interest that saw hordes of hacks and snappers travel from Euston to Crewe on a daily basis, along with what seemed like every MP, supporter and peer that could be pressed into the service of their party.
The reasoning is straightforward: despite being a rather shorter journey than the 158 miles to Crewe, there was little prospect of Labour dropping this particular ball. Rather, it is the numbers behind Seema Malhotra’s victory that should be analysed, not least the abysmal turnout of less than 29%. And, even on that showing, the Labour majority over the Tories was increased.
The percentage share of the vote for the Coalition parties fell from 47.7% to 33.6%, while Labour’s percentage went from 43.6% to 54.4%, the discrepancy between the two changes largely accounted for by UKIP increasing its share from 2% to 5.5%, despite Young Dave’s supposedly jolly good jaunt to Brussels. In 2005, Alan Keen garnered 47.6%, and that should be causing the Tories concern.
Because at that General Election, despite Labour losing popularity over the Iraq adventure, they won 355 seats, giving the party a majority of 65. Sure, if the Lib Dems were to suffer significant losses at the next such Election, there would be more seats likely to go to the Tories, but some gains could also be expected by Labour. And the economy is unlikely to recover any time soon.
Thus the reality in a week when some opinion polls were showing a Tory lead: what would happen without the “poll bounce” of Cameron’s veto should be making his party think long and hard about the future. And the result does not exactly echo the crude attacks by papers like the Daily Mail on the Labour leadership, with their reporting of “whispering campaigns” against Mil The Younger.
Moreover, there is the next London mayoral election approaching, and occasional mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson would do well to learn from this result, rather than listen to his cheerleaders in the press and blogosphere. Feltham and Heston could be A Good Thing for Labour.